Usurping a mandate

Published : May 25, 2002 00:00 IST

A Sri Lankan Tamil leader refutes LTTE supremo V. Prabakaran's claim that he has the people's mandate to fight for a Tamil Eelam.

AMONG the various claims Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader V. Prabakaran made in his April 10 media conference was the one that the LTTE continued to fight for a separate 'Tamil Eelam' because of a mandate that the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) had received in the 1977 parliamentary elections to fight for an independent Tamil state. In a sharp response to this, K.N. Douglas Devananda, secretary-general of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP), said that nobody has put forward the demand for a separate Tamil state in the subsequent elections. "Prabakaran has now referred to the 1977 mandate which is contrary to the wishes of the people," he remarked, emphasising the fact that the Tamil people of the north-east gave the mandate to the TULF and not to Prabakaran. Pointing out that it was the LTTE that killed TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam, Devananda asked: "Is Prabakaran, therefore, referring to his own likes and dislikes or the people's mandate?"

(Prabakaran told the media conference in Kilinochchi in northern Sri Lanka that "the necessity" had not arisen until now to accept an alternative to Eelam. "I don't think the necessity and situation have arisen for that now. It is our people who put forward our demand for Tamil Eelam. The people gave a mandate to the Tamil United Liberation Front as early as 1977. We, therefore, with people's support have been fighting for Tamil Eelam till now.")

Forty-seven-year-old Devananda was in Chennai in the second week of May for medical consultation. He is among the few politicians in Sri Lanka to have fearlessly taken on the LTTE in the past 15 years. He does not hesitate to attack the LTTE for its continuing belief in armed struggle, its refusal to give up its separatist demand, and its record of terrorist killings. Devananda broke away from the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and formed the EPDP in May 1987. Earlier he was the leader of the People's Liberation Army, the military wing of the EPRLF. He was elected to Parliament in 1994. He was a Minister in the People's Alliance government led by Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is now Sri Lanka's President. Devananda was re-elected to Parliament in the December 2001 elections.

Talking to Frontline on May 11, he pointed out that as per the Sixth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, only those who disavowed separatism could be sworn in as MPs. However, leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who contested the December 2001 elections on a pro-LTTE platform, had also taken the oath to give up separatism. Devananda observed: "Prabakaran is continuing his demand for Eelam only to protect himself and not to protect the people. The people did not give a mandate to Prabakaran (to fight for Eelam). They gave it to the TULF. But Prabakaran killed TULF leader Amirthalingam."

The EPDP leader explained that he opposed Prabakaran's demand for the formation of an interim administration in the north-east because there was "no war now". He characterised the LTTE's demand for an interim administration as a ploy to buy time. "If Prabakaran gets an interim administration, he will fully militarise the Tamil people," Devananda warned. The Tamil people would then be driven to destruction. "The interim administration will amount to a de facto Eelam. If an interim administration is established, there will be no democracy and pluralism." Devananda claimed that Prabakaran had told the TNA MPs at a meeting on April 12 that he was not interested in negotiations and was keen only on an interim administration in the Tamil areas, and that the TNA should work for it in Colombo.

In his assessment, three factors forced Prabakaran to go in for peace talks. They were: the international pressure on the LTTE as a consequence of the Al Qaeda terror attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001; the EPDP's political campaign among the Tamil people on the need to find a solution to the ethnic problem through negotiations; and Prabakaran's wish to protect himself from the Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) of the Sri Lanka Army. (The DPU had succeeded in killing several senior LTTE leaders, including a top commander, Shankar alias Sornalingam, who was virtually number two in the LTTE.) Once the international pressure eased and the threat to Prabakaran's life from the DPU subsided, the ceasefire agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE was bound to break down, Devananda predicted.

Will Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe come up with a proposal recognising Tamils as a distinct nationality, the north-east as the traditional homeland of Tamils, and the Tamils' right to self-determination? Responding to this question, Devananda said that President Chandrika Kumaratunga brought forward a proposal in 1995 incorporating these three principles. However, the EPDP leader noted, this devolution package was diluted because of opposition from Sinhala extremist elements.

Asked why he had so much faith in President Kumaratunga, Devananda replied: "More than faith, we see a change... It is not as if we have abundant faith in her." He said he had told both the previous People's Alliance government and the present United National Party government that the EPDP had taken to democracy "through an armed struggle". In this, he would not be fooled, nor would he fool others. When the EPDP declared it stood for a united Sri Lanka, it was able to talk to the political parties in the Sinhala-dominated south.

India, he said, had a historic duty to find the "right" solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka. There was a change in the Sri Lankan government's method of functioning after the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, Devananda observed. "Until then, it was chauvinistic. But Prabakaran has not changed yet. The Tigers will never change their stripes," he remarked.

Devananda welcomed the special resolution passed on April 16 by the Tamil Nadu Assembly that Prabakaran should be extradited to India to stand trial in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. The resolution, adopted at the instance of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government led by Jayalalithaa, says that if the Sri Lankan government is unable to capture Prabakaran and extradite him, the Centre with Colombo's permission should send the Indian Army to provide help to the Sri Lanka Army and take all steps to capture Prabakaran.

The resolution was meant to protect Tamil Nadu and the rest of India, Devananda said, for if Prabakaran were to set up bases in Tamil Nadu to pursue his separatist demand, an arms culture would once again take root in Tamil Nadu. "The arms culture began here when we had camps here," he pointed out.

Jayalalithaa brought forward the resolution keeping in view the security of Tamil Nadu and India, Devananda noted. "We welcome it because it will rein in Prabakaran." Every time Prabakaran agreed to declare a ceasefire and start negotiations, it was done only to protect himself. The innocent Tamil people were the ones who were affected whenever the LTTE signed ceasefire agreements in the past, Devananda remarked. The resolution was not against peace but would strengthen it, was the EPDP leader's conclusion.

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